Sunday, November 29, 2015

REVIEW: 'Homeland' - Carrie and Saul Plot a Mission to Expose Allison's Secret in 'The Litvinov Ruse'

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 5.09 "The Litvinov Ruse"

The CIA and BND make a play.

"The Litvinov Ruse" is all about exposing Allison as the Russian mole that she is and catching her so that she can provide answers to everything that has been going on this season. It appears that is the only thing Carrie got from Achmed's computer. She saw his screensaver and that was it. Numan may still be uncovering information that could prove beneficial to Carrie's investigation in the future. But right now, it's all about getting everyone to accept that Allison is a traitor working against the best interests of the CIA and putting Carrie's life at risk. That's easier said than done though. Carrie has to convince everyone that this mission is worth it. And even in the end, it's much more complicated than any of them had anticipated. That creates an episode of Homeland that is very simplistic in its ambition but very tense in its execution. This is a type of episode the show has done before. And yet, it is really good at them.

The knowledge that Allison is a spy is the only piece of information that Carrie can give Saul at the start of the hour. He has been patiently waiting for her to return with the answers to this whole situation. And yet, she only has speculation. It's a devastating reveal for Saul. He placed all his hopes in Carrie and she wasn't able to deliver enough solid facts. All she has to go on is a connection that may or may not even be there. She's basing all of this accusation on Achmed's screen saver. They talk about Allison's relationship with Achmed for a second. And then, they actually go together to find proof that would confirm this story. No matter what their personal feelings are, this is the only lead they have to go on right now. Saul can't run from Dar Adal and the CIA forever. His friends in German intelligence are hiding him for now. But that won't last forever. As devastating as this reveal is, it's literally the only thing Carrie and Saul are grasping at right now. They need this to be true in order to save both of their lives.

So, Carrie and Saul team up with German intelligence in order to stage a mission that will force Allison to make contact with her Russian handlers. If she does, that's all the proof they need to detain her and bring her to Dar to get answers. If it's true, that means their entire system has been compromised for the last decade. That's a big deal. The Germans only agree because it is happening in Berlin and they need to remain allies with the United States. They don't want any of their information getting back to the Russians should they have any future dealings with Allison. So everyone is capable of putting together a team and a strategy to force Allison into action. It's a very slow and tense build. It starts with Saul reaching out to her again in order to let her guard down so he can plant bugs on her phone, in her bag and around her apartment. That way when Astrid and her colleagues lay the trap with a story about a high ranking Russian official wanting to defect to the United States through Germany, they can see everything that Allison does.

The trap takes a moment to actually work. The audience knows that Allison is a Russian mole. But it's still just speculation to Carrie, Saul and the Germans. They have to consider that this is all just a waste of time after she basically does nothing after first hearing of the big news. She sends a text message that could be a coded message. But it's actually just her getting laid in her apartment by someone other than Saul. It's annoying that Carrie has to be told - by Astrid of all people! - that Saul and Allison were sleeping together. And then, she tries to comfort him by saying she knows what it feels like to be in this position - because she was in it with Brody a few seasons ago. But none of this really distracts from the mission at all. Saul's feelings never really get in the way of his judgment. When the trap doesn't work, Astrid just makes it bigger and more enticing.

After Astrid tells Allison that her defector has information that the Berlin station has been compromised, Allison immediately goes on the run. She's calm throughout the entire process. She is a very well trained spy who knows all the protocols to avoid being followed. But so are Carrie, Saul and the German officials. They never really lose her as she makes her way to the German countryside for a Russian safe house. It's a very well executed action sequence. It shows that Carrie and Saul are on to something. Allison is worried but is keeping her cool until she reaches her final destination. She fully believes her cover has been blown and needs to get out of the country before Dar can arrest her for her crimes. The only complication Carrie and Saul experience on this surveillance mission is the fact that all audio cuts out as soon as Allison enters the Russian compound. That doesn't keep them from arresting Allison and her handler in the end. But it also creates a circumstance that makes the final twist much more plausible.

When Allison is arrested, Carrie and Saul present all of their evidence to Dar. He is furious with them but he still has to act on the information they have uncovered. He needs to listen because this may affect his operations in Germany. And yet, Allison has a plan that can explain away all of her actions. She is now claiming that her handler was actually her asset. He was working for her instead of the other way around. He was the one providing intelligence. She was just doing her job. That story may not hold up under intense scrutiny. But it sure is enough to place doubt and deceit back on the narrative. It shows that Allison is still a very smart individual even though she has been caught for a crime she actually has committed. She's resourceful and won't give up the information easily. That sets things up nicely for the next episode as Carrie has to get the truth out of Allison.

While all of this is going on, Quinn is now a captive of his Syrian friends. They are planning an attack on Berlin that seemingly has nothing to do with whatever the Russians have going on right now. It's a weird story in this episode because it is so disconnected from the rest of the narrative. Quinn is trying to place a seed of doubt in one of the soldiers who has never killed or been in a war zone before. He's a part of this organization because he's close with his extremist cousin. But he doesn't know what the people in charge are planning until Quinn tells him. It's not a very good story. It's basically building up to that moment where Quinn is in the chamber that is filling with sarin gas. That moment is cool because of the effects the show achieves with Quinn experiencing the symptoms. And yet, it's the second time this season that an episode has ended with the tease of Quinn's death. And once again, there is a reasonable explanation for how he'll get out of it. It's a device that didn't work the first time and doesn't work now. Quinn can only reasonably escape death so many times. Sooner or later, it's going to need to actually happen.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Litvinov Ruse" was directed by Tucker Gates with story by Howard Gordon & Patrick Harbinson and teleplay by Alex Gansa.
  • Jonas, Otto, Laura and Numan weren't seen at all in this episode. They weren't missed at all. They all come from Carrie's new life in Berlin. And yet, the characters closely connected to the espionage aspect of the show are the ones of real importance this season. The show isn't even trying to make those other four work at all right now.
  • Allison's Russian handler has to agree to her big plan to get them out of this arrangement because it's his only option at living a life not behind bars. Let's just see how long that will last though. He doesn't seem like a guy who can convincingly pretend to betray his country.
  • Allison's text messages weren't a coded message. But it is amusing that Carrie would assume that it's a weird code just because it features an emoji. Hey, that's something that could reasonable happen in today's world.
  • Lots of great German scenery in this episode. This is why it's so beneficial to shoot on location.